From The News Record
By Owen Racer
Expectations met. Sort of. “Winning is kind of an expectation against Xavier,” George Zimmerer, Cincinnati’s captain and player president said ahead of his team’s double header against rival, Xavier University.
A nearly 10 p.m. dropping of the puck and hazardous weather conditions Friday night didn’t stop fans of Cincinnati hockey from packing in the bleachers of Sports Plus, 20 plus minutes from the campuses of both Xavier and Cincinnati.
After not being able to hear the starting lineups announced Friday, Cincinnati went into the lockeroom after one period not satisfied with the 1-0 advantage Xavier had taken in 20 minutes of play, Gerard Niermann, a fourth-year right-wing for Cincinnati said.
Niermann credits his team’s speed and pressure that exhausted Xavier’s defense for his team’s drastic flip of the script that resulted in an 8-1 final, Cincinnati favor. However, Saturday’s day game didn’t go as planned.
With approximately six of Cincinnati’s players healthy but not dressed to play in the game, Xavier faced a different lineup than they did Friday, which they found a way to exploit.
In what ended up being a 3-1 Xavier win, Saturday’s game was a surprise to all, especially the fans bearing the cold who Niermann said showed out well for a Saturday game.
Despite the shuffled lineup that took the ice Saturday for Cincinnati, Niermann said he still expected to put up a seven-point score win.
Cincinnati’s ice hockey team, a semi-varsity unit in the ACHA league, isn’t an optional commitment, one that Zimmerer says is taken very seriously for the group of guys who he says usually work their whole lives to play in the ACHA.
Although technically a club team, there are only 60 NCAA D1 hockey teams, meaning that some of the best local talent is found on collegiate club teams. Prior to the crosstown matchup, Cincinnati was sitting on an 11-10-1 record, which Zimmerer said doesn’t reflect the team’s true talents.
Cincinnati recently beat the No. 19 team in the country, Michigan State, 5-2, prior to losing to No. 4 Florida Gold Coast 5-4 and the No. 3 team in the country 3-1. Zimmerer notes that his team’s strength of schedule is one of the reasons they’ve found themselves at the 16-team nationals in their last two seasons.
At one point in Friday night’s game, Niermann said his Cincinnati squad just needed to play Bearcat hockey, meaning gritty, which they seemingly found in route to a chippy third period, a typical occurrence for the rivalry.
With a Xavier player ejected during Friday’s third period and an ejection for each squad in Saturday’s second period, the expected feelings of a crosstown rivalry were met.
While Xavier was the first to score Saturday, their only goal on Friday night came during a four-on-four player situation.
Friday night’s win was huge for Cincinnati who is playing “hungry hockey” as they’re trying to finish out the remaining season with large point margins to secure a spot in the regional tournament.
Niermann says although Cincinnati’s record is near .500, it doesn’t represent their true talent since they were No. 25 in the country at the time of facing Xavier and have a rigorous strength of schedule this season.
Being ranked in the top-15 is something Niermann said is expected. “It’s nothing new, we’ve been there before,” Niermann said.
For a matter of fact, Cincinnati reached the National Tournament in each of their last two seasons during 2019 and 2020. During Saturday’s matchup, Niermann said it was unfortunate for Xavier to have to face a hungry Cincinnati team because they know every game is a must win.
Every game is a must-win for Cincinnati because if they rank between third and sixth place in regionals, they have a first-game bye, a major goal of the team.
Cincinnati’s club hockey team has qualitative goals to go along with their quantitative aspirations, with community connection topping the list. With hockey’s popularity on the rise in Cincinnati, Niermann said his team has been focusing efforts to engage with the community and gain more following.
With Cincinnati’s Bearcat mascot, Barstool, and RallyCats all attending Friday’s game, they’ve seemingly connected with the community. Niermann said the recognition his team’s receiving is worth the while and he wants to prove that the 20-minute drive to see his squad play is worth it because “fans fuel the team.”
Next up, Cincinnati travels to St. Louis for a showcase prior to a two-game homestead against Penn State that will carry the team into a hopeful regionals appearance.
(Originally published at https://www.newsrecord.org/sports/uc-hockey-faces-xavier-in-double-header/article_8aca09b2-816b-11ec-9820-a727606351c6.html)